A wide variety of approaches have been used in an attempt to quantify yield losses for different climate scenarios. Some models represent individual processes in detail, while others rely on statistical models that, in theory, should capture all relevant processes that have influenced historical variations in crop production. Figure 5.1 shows model estimates of the combined effect of warming and CO2 on yields for different levels of global temperature rise. It is noteworthy that although yields respond nonlinearly to temperature on a daily time scale, with extremely hot days or cold nights weighing heavily in final yields, the simulated response to seasonal warming is fairly linear at broad scales (Lobell and Field, 2007; Schlenker and Roberts, 2009). Several major crops and regions reveal consistently negative temperature sensitivities, with between 5-10% yield loss per degree warming estimated both by process-based and statistical approaches. Most of the nonlinearity in Figure 5.1 reflects the fact that CO2 benefits for yield saturate at higher CO2 levels.

For C3 crops, the negative effects of warming are often balanced by positive CO2 effects up to 2-3ºC local warming in temperate regions, after which negative warming effects dominate. Because temperate land areas will warm faster than the global average (see Section 4.2), this corresponds to roughly 1.25-2ºC in global average temperature. For C4 crops, even modest amounts of warming are detrimental in major growing regions given the small response to CO2 (see Box 5.1 for discussion of maize in the United States).

The expected impacts illustrated in Figure 5.1 are useful as a measure of the likely direction and magnitude of average yield changes, but fall short of a complete risk analysis, which would, for instance, estimate the chance of exceeding critical thresholds. The existing literature identifies several prominent sources of uncertainty, including those related to the magnitude of local warming per degree global temperature increase, the sensitivity of crop yields to temperature, the CO2 levels corresponding to each temperature level (see Section 3.2), and the magnitude of CO2 fertilization. The impacts of rainfall changes can also be important at local and regional scales, although at broad scales the modeled impacts are most often dictated by temperature and CO2 because simulated rainfall changes are relatively small (Lobell and Burke, 2008).

In addition, although the studies summarized in Figure 5.1 consider several of the main processes that determine yield response to weather, several other processes have not been adequately quantified. These include responses of weeds, insects, and pathogens; changes in water resources available for irrigation; effects of changes in surface ozone levels; effects of



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement